Lasse Hallström and Nicholas Sparks pool their romantic, dreamy eyed young love mythos and apply them to subject matter that’s surprisingly dark in Safe Haven.The soft sell of The Notebook and Dear John is toughened with a little murder, stalking, arson, terror and death dreams. It’s an odd choice, but certainly varies the formula.
Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel are brought together in a decidedly uncute meet; she’s on the lam on suspicion of murder and he’s mourning the death of his wife from cancer. He must stay strong and keep a brave face to protect his adorable son and daughter.
She arrives in a coastal fishing village looking over her shoulder planning to disappear from view. After locating a remote cabin the woods and settles in leaving only by foot for food. A nice woman neighbor around her age befriends her.
Duhamel, the proprietor of the local grocery store and his young daughter are taken by this mysterious woman who politely but firmly keeps them at bay. She rejects his gift of a bicycle on the grounds that it would tie her to them and yet paradoxically draws nearer to them.
Meanwhile a policeman in Boston is doggedly pursuing her, armed only with knowledge that she boarded a bus to Atlanta. His obsession is clear, almost personal. And judging from his mad eyes, he’s going to find her.
If all of this sounds familiar, Safe Haven is virtually identical to the Julia Roberts’ damsel in distress thriller Sleeping with the Enemy, an enjoyable caper about a woman who disappears, and is stalked by a man flirting with madness.
Safe Haven feels like a remake, minus the leading lady’s staged death, bind mother and the thrill. Moments in both films of bucolic bliss as the runaway girl and an unknowing man enjoy small town pleasures match. Still it’s not a capital offence yet to make films that are the same.
Julianne Hough is an interesting actress. She has the kind of technique and talent shared by many young stars that came up in the Disney system. She sings, dances and acts, and has tremendous ease in front of the camera. Her performance is good, but not great and naturalistic.
Duhamel’s perf is okay as well. He came up via soaps and TV serials and while he’s not De Niro here, he’s amiable enough to make the story feel real, he loves his daughter and the memory of his wife and tries to win over an unwinnable girl. Can’t help but think he found the script as corny as any TV soap.
A tiny complaint is that Hough’s appearance is not suited to the woman in this story. Her hair and makeup and clothing scream “Look at me!”... Icy white teeth, white blonde hair, deep tan (acquired by the sea in just days, it seems) and exposed flesh aren’t generally the signs of a woman hiding out. Her edgy behavior doesn’t help either, but that’s not Hough’s fault.
Still, it’s an amiable enough caper that Sparks and Hallström have created, or rather recreated. As they used to say it’s an okay timewaster. But I’m not sure Sparks will enjoy the same huzzahs on this one.
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35 mm romance drama
Written by Leslie Bohem, Dana Stevens based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Opens: Feb 14